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In Praise of Ravelry, Part One (Yes, There Will Be Parts!)

As a genuinely happy person, I have few regrets in life. It's so convenient! Whenever anyone suggests you should have made different life choices, which include (these are all real choices I've made, unfortunately):

  • bleaching your hair blond, then dying it temporarily black again, which made it dark green, washing it out, achieving lighter green, dying it temporarily brown again, which made it medium-dark green, washing it out, achieving a pale grey-green sage, then shaving most of it off your head with a shaver with no guard attachment, yielding a head composed of some completely bald bits, some areas of dark regrowth, and tufts of grey-green sage bits

  • going to accept the award for best regional debating team in Grade 11, getting confused about how to access the stage, ending up in the orchestra pit, and then hiding there in the hopes that everyone would someone carry on without you, and then having to emerge (to laughter), get back on the stage and accept the award

  • because of the orchestra pit situation, obsessing about what exact path to follow when at one's graduation ceremony, resulting in failing to remove one's hat, resulting in the Chancellor hitting you on the head with the diploma while yelling "your hat!"

  • paying real cash money to attend, in the theatre, the bewilderingly bad movie version of my beloved Bewitched

... you can retort "But I'm happy! Who knows what would have happened had I not done these things? All my choices have ultimately resulted in my happiness, so there!"

But I have one true regret: that I didn't begin visiting the website Ravelry sooner in my knitting career.

Ravelry can be found at (shocker) www.ravelry.com and is a magical place full of almost everything any knitter could possibly enjoy doing online and then some:

  • There is a page where photos of people's finished knitting projects pop up in real time.

  • There is a page where people discuss knitting in the news (something I didn't think had ever happened in the entire history of both knitting and news, but I am wrong).

  • There is a page devoted to the Joy Ombres yarn in DK weight in the Malibu colourway.

  • You can even search for every Ravelry user who has adopted "Grumpy" as part of their username, and it will also return results for the similarly cranky "Tetchy" who swears quite a bit and lives in Manchester, UK.

So let me introduce you to some of its wonders, one step at a time.

The Advanced Pattern Search

I don't want to overstate it, but the advanced pattern search is the Best Search Function I Have Ever Seen on Any Web Site Ever. Period, bar none, drop the mic, it's done. When I'm looking for books at Amazon, there are 8 measly filters, most of them useless. Ravelry has 37 filters (don't be overwhelmed, you don't have to use them all), many with sub-filters.

If you'd like to search for a free knitting pattern from the mid-1990s that uses 200-225 meters of yarn, is intended for an adult, is written in English, worked in the round, includes little bobbles or other decoration extrusions (they're fun!), and uses up your Worsted or DK yarn, you will find three choices, the "Dino Mite Mittens" by Jane Ross Whedbee, the "Last Leaf" hat by Nicky Epstein, or the "Bobbles 'n Leaves" hat by the fine folk at Patons.

If, however, you're looking for a downloadable knitting pattern for a sweater for a woman that typically uses only one colour, is written in English, and is considered easy-to-medium difficulty by a majority of users, you get 6,802 choices, including 186 that'll be quickly knit in a Super Bulky yarn, if you think the intended recipient can carry that off.

I use this search function constantly. For instance, as a good-sized male human adult, I would like to find patterns for garments that look like this (my first ever sweater, thanks Staci Perry who guided me through):

As opposed to garments that look like this (apparently intended for a smallish female dog):

I'm a huge fan of smallish female dogs--I even owned one, once, our beloved Lilah--but when your heart is set on a new sweater for yourself, it's nice to be able to limit the pattern to one that's appropriate, fits you, is not-too-hard, doesn't involve steeking* (if you're not ready for that yet!), has a zipper, uses up the worsted weight yarn you were hoping to use up, is written in English, etc. etc. etc.

Now For the Fun Part

So you've found a pattern you like? Great! Click on the pattern name, and it takes you to a page for that pattern. And there, near the top, is a Projects tab. Click on that, and you can see all the projects that people have made from that pattern. So if you're bad with colours, say, you can see what other people have chosen, find one you like, then emulate that.

I like how they add little notes and comments about the pattern, like "I added a row of k1, yarnover, every 10th row to create eyelets" or "The heck with doing any math to customize this jacket, I'll just wear the largest size and trust it'll be large enough" or even "L’inizio è stato molto difficoltoso, difficile capire quale traccia seguire visto che la traccia gialla relativa alla mia taglia all’inizio non compare" which roughly equates to "the beginning of the pattern was tricky as I couldn't find my size listed." Fun! There's nothing quite like reading the bitchy comments of a frustrated knitter about a badly-written pattern to make me feel that whatever I'm doing is a heck of a lot more rewarding (especially since all I'm doing is reading the bitchy comments of a frustrated knitter).

The Techniques Forum

There's a forum section which is tremendously useful. If you're embarking on a new pattern, quick, pop over to the forum section and search for your pattern--if people have been discussing it in the forums, you'll get some hits, and better find out now that people generally find the pattern confusing, or that everyone agrees a different cast on is required, rather than after you're in the weeds of actually knitting the confused garment.

I like the Techniques forum particularly. As a relatively new knitter, it's a chance to see what's tripping people up, and as it's likely some method that either is or will be tripping me up as well, why not learn how not to trip? People will ask about i-cord edging, turning flat patterns into round patterns, attaching new balls of yarn, but often it's just general bewilderment about how to interpret a pattern. The forum's like having your knowledgeable knitting friends nearby and accessible at a moment's notice. And they're very busy forums--you'll get an answer, and you'll get one quickly. Insanely useful.

You can even post pics of your projects, and post a link to your pics in your forum post, so everyone can see what you're talking about when you ask your question. Marvelous!

On the Needles

(I will mark with a ! when I have advanced beyond last mention)

  • GGN Norwegian Ski Sweater (Chart A row 12) !

  • Vice Versa scarf (double knitting!) begun the third row of squares !

  • Persian Dreams Blanket (row 21 of the second hexagon) !

  • A Random Blanket (about 1/4 through, totally forgot to mention this before. It's garter stitch, it's on-my-couch-knitting, it's easy) !

On the backburner:

  • Feather Duster Lace Shawl (I'm repeating, for the first time, the body section)

  • A Church Mouse sock (prior to heel)

  • World's Simplest Mittens (prior to thumb)

  • A Hitchhiker Scarf (started over a year ago. It's for when I'm needing mobile knitting and every other project is stuck at a complicated point. I will be in the middle forever, I guess)

  • Simply Ribbed Scarf (again, it's ancient, intended for emergency mobile knitting, and I'm in the middle)

Glossary

*steeking = a traditional Northern European method of knitting sweaters in the round then actually slicing them open to create armholes, neckholes, or cardigan front openings. Not for the faint-of-heart, but apparently not as difficult as one would first imagine.

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